The Denver Broncos head on the road to take on the Detroit Lions on Saturday Night Football. If they win the game, their chances of making the postseason catapult to nearly 85-percent. If they drop the game, they risk falling a game behind a handful of other teams in the AFC with similar records eagerly waiting to punch their ticket to the playoffs.
The Lions have lost two of their last three games and have struggled mightily on defense since playing the Los Angeles Chargers a month ago, but the Broncos cannot afford to underestimate them. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions and what the Broncos need to do to leave the Motor City with a victory this weekend.
2022 Detroit Lions Review
After a rough start to the year, the Lions finished the second half of the 2022 season strong with a 9-8 record. Offensively, they were Top 5 in points and yards, but defensively, they were one of the worst teams in the league and ranked 28th in points allowed and 32 in total yardage allowed.
2023 Offseason Moves and Acquisitions
The Lions made several big splashes this past free agency period. Their most notable additions were running back David Montgomery and cornerback Cam Sutton, who have been reliable starters for them this season. They also signed versatile defender C.J. Gardner-Johnson, but he has been missing in action due to a torn pec injury he suffered earlier in the year. They brought back offensive lineman and former Broncos guard Graham Glasgow to help their offensive line as well.
They were busy during the 2023 NFL Draft and came away with two first-round picks in Jahmyr Gibbs and Jack Campbell. They struck gold in the second-round with tight end Sam LaPorta, who has been one of their best players on offense. They also added defensive back Brian Branch, who has made a pretty good impact as a rookie as well.
The Lions Offensive X-Factor: Sam LaPorta, TE
The 2023 NFL Draft featured one of the deepest crops of tight end prospects in recent memory. A lot of players were selected in the first three rounds of the draft, but I have been very surprised as the performance of LaPorta. He has become an immediate fixture in Detroit’s offense and already has 66 catches for 702 yards and 6 touchdowns on the season.
In my opinion, he has played at a Pro-Bowl level as a rookie and is a player Vance Joseph and the Broncos defense need to shut down in order to come away with a victory on Saturday Night Football. Denver’s defense has been hot as of late, but on the season they have allowed the second most yards to tight ends in the entire National Football League. I’d expect the Broncos to get aggressive and perhaps use some bracket coverage on the back end to keep LaPorta in check throughout the game.
Most receiving yards allowed to the TE this year— Honolulu Blues (@HonoluluBlues_) December 13, 2023
1. Cincinnati Bengals - 935
2. Denver Broncos - 902
3. Los Angeles Rams - 809
Fire up LaPorta pic.twitter.com/5utOfs5ECp
The Lions Defensive X-Factor: Aidan Hutchinson, DE
The Lions defense is a work in progress. They don’t have a lot of top-tier pass rushers or elite difference makers at many positions. That being said, Aidan Hutchinson has had a good year for them in his second season in the NFL. He is my defensive player to keep your eye on tomorrow night.
Through 13 games, he has 6.5 sacks, 38 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 18 quarterback hits. He also has two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. I’d expect the Broncos to use an extra player (tight end) to chip away at him in the passing game and help keep him away from the ball in the running game.
Let’s hope the Broncos offensive line can step up and limit his impact on the game.
Keys to Victory for the Broncos
Outside of limiting the impact of LaPorta and Hutchinson, Denver will need to be strong against the run in order to win this game. David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs have been a formidable duo for the Lions running the ball this season. They have over 1,450 yards on the ground combined and 16 total touchdowns. I fully expect the Lions to lean heavily on the running game and use both of them as outlets in the passing game as well.
Offensively, I’d like to see the Broncos establish the run as well. We need more consistency from Javonte Williams and I’m looking for Samaje Perine and Jaleel McLaughlin to get a handful of touches as well. Moreover, I’m expecting a rebound game from Jerry Jeudy who had a few drops and a missed touchdown in last week’s win against the Chargers.
I’ve got the Broncos winning this game 27-20 and moving to 8-6 on the season. That gets them one step closer to the playoffs.